A loophole in Ohio and federal laws has allowed the creation of synthetic, marijuana-like drugs that have made their way into Medina County, according to authorities.
David Smith, director of the local drug task force Medway, said the drugs, commonly sold under the names K2 or spice, are genetically engineered to be more potent than marijuana with similar effects on whoever ingests them.
Because the drugs’ precise chemical compositions are not included in the federal government’s database of controlled substances, law enforcement is powerless to control their spread through communities, authorities said.
According to federal records, the drugs pose an “imminent hazard to the public safety” and can induce hallucinations, agitation, anxiety, vomiting, accelerated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, seizures and non-responsiveness.
Legislation to ban the drugs in Ohio stalled at the end of last year as the previous assembly left and before the new House and Senate began their work.
State Rep. Dave Hall, R-Killbuck, said the bill to ban the drugs will be on the House’s agenda in the near future.
“We’ve been hearing back in the districts some of the issues of the synthetic drug,” Hall said. “It’s a loophole, and it needs to be fixed.”
Legislation banning the drugs has passed or is pending in at least 25 states.
Brunswick Police Chief Carl DeForest said his department has encountered the drugs at least twice in recent months.
“There’s precious little information to go on as to the intoxicating value of this type of material and what the impact is when someone ingests it,” DeForest said. “If someone overdoses on it, what can you do to help them?”
On Jan. 9, a woman called police to report she had found marijuana in her 16-year-old son’s room. Police discovered the stash was the K2 drug and not marijuana.
Another man was found to be carrying the drug in October.
Neither was charged because, for now, the drug is not illegal, DeForest said. Any pipes or other paraphernalia found were legal as well, he said, because they were not being used for illegal activities.
Smith said the drugs, which are available at certain stores and on the Internet, are made from a plant that has been genetically engineered. Chemicals are sprayed on the plant, he said, which become the active ingredient in the drugs.
“The Feds have identified five types of this chemical,” Smith said.
All five chemicals would be included in any legislation banning the substance, he said.
When distributed, the plant is cut up and packaged, Smith said, and when consumed, the clippings are rolled up and smoked or ingested through the mouth or in food.
“They could put it with brownies just like they do marijuana,” Smith said.
He said it is also more expensive than marijuana, costing up to $75 for a plastic bag about the diameter of a quarter.
Medina police Lt. Bob Starcher said his department has not yet dealt with the drug, but is aware of it and officers have had briefings on its effects.
“We are concerned with anything that impairs you physically,” Starcher said.
Smith and Gary Hubbard, director of the Medina County Drug Task Force, said they also have not encountered the drug in the county, but have heard of its use across the state.
Smith said the aim is to prosecute K2 on the same level as marijuana. Possessing it would be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount involved, and selling it would be a felony, he said.
DeForest said the creation of drugs like K2 represent a trend in the drug industry.
“I think people oftentimes try to stay one step ahead of the law, especially when they’re designing synthetic drugs,” he said.
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